A few years ago I read an American short story about a traveling clock salesman. For the life of me, I can’t remember the name or the author of the story, but I think about it often (if you happen to know this story, please let me know what it’s called!). The story is set sometime in the late 19th century and it is about a clock salesman trying to make money in a time when there isn’t much money to be had. He is training an apprentice, who is skeptical that he’ll be able to sell a clock to anyone; after all, who needs a clock at a time like this?
The salesman says, in his southern dialect no less, that he relies completely on “southern kindness” and “Human Nature” to make his money. Basically he is invited into the houses (southern kindness) of low to middle class families and then charms them with the clock. He tells them about some of the more prominent people in the area who have recently bought a clock. He places it on their mantle or other prominent location in their home and flatters them – tells them how good it looks in their house; how well respected they will be when other people see the clock in their house. They will be the envy of their friends. Now people want to buy it, but they know they can’t afford it. So the salesman tells them that he’ll let them think about it alone, and he’ll even let them keep the clock while they do!
The salesman and the apprentice leave the house without the clock and without the payment. The apprentice is confused and asks the salesman how that is possibly going to work; the people simply cannot afford to buy the clock! The salesman replies, very calmly, by saying that when he goes in a few days to collect the clock, the people will buy it because of “human nature:” Their friends will have seen them with the clock, and they
think know that the rich people have them, and they’ve attached some self worth to the clock. Giving it back would mean they lose that self worth; and, no one wants to do that. So these people find a way to pay for the clock, even though they can’t afford it and they really don’t need the clock in the first place.
I thought about this story today because it illustrates just how stupid we, as humans, can be. You’d think that human nature would be a positive attribute that we could count on to further our well being, to make logical decisions, and to better us, as a species. Instead, it cuts us down, takes advantage of our vulnerabilities, and works against the very things we strive to achieve.
Yesterday I encountered a situation that made me angry. I wrote about it on my blog, I vented to a few of my closer friends about it, and worst of all, I fumed about it all evening. The more I thought about it, the more I was able to come up with reasons why I had every right to be upset, or hurt, or mad about the situation. Even after going to bed, I was still thinking about it… I was dreaming about it, too. I woke up in distress over some stupid pseudo-nightmare about the whole situation (now I’m talking about the back story associated with the situation as well, not just yesterday’s events). In the shower this morning, I thought of all the things I was going to do today to try and rectify (get more information about) the situation. Who am I kidding… I’m only looking to throw fuel on my own fire…
I thought about getting more information as to how the whole situation came about from the first-year student involved. However, I don’t really like her that much, even though she’d never know it. I make a point of being kind and amicable with everyone I work with and I generally do a good job of this. So, I could easily go up to her in a very friendly manner, and ask her all about her experience yesterday, citing that I’m excited for her and that I’m just so interested in how it went. In reality, I’ll just be dripping with loathing anger and jealousy, and whatever she tells me will probably just make me more miserable. There’s my human nature: being falsely kind… with an ulterior motive… that will only make my situation worse, not better. But I want to do it anyway.
I should also mention that this girl is not very well liked by most people. Two of my good friends went to school with her in the small town they are from. They both, separately, attested to how abhorrent her and her family are. They are disliked by most of the town because they come off quite pretentious, they always have to have the last word, they are annoying and persistent, and they never pass on an opportunity to put someone in their place. These collateral stories didn’t surprise me all that much because it is those very characteristics that rubbed me the wrong way to begin with. So, when I go to get this story from her, I’m sure it won’t be an totally accurate portrayal of what actually happened: It will be full of embellishments and exaggerations, and who knows, she might even try to put me in my place. There’s her human nature: self perpetuating, grandiose, dishonest… all to get a foot up on someone else.
There are probably infinitely more contemptible aspects of human nature that I can discuss here, and I would if I had the time. This whole situation that I’m in right now is just so prominently on my mind that I was forced to think about how human nature is working against me, rather than in my favor. I know there is nothing I can do about this issue, except to drop it. It’s not about me. I’m making it bigger than it needs to be. It has nothing to do with this girl, either. It is about my issues of insecurity. My neediness. My low self-esteem. I guess it is about me. I am probably over-thinking it and causing myself even more stress… which I clearly don’t need right now.
See: Stupid. Human. Nature.